Religion and inter-ethnic peace and harmony in Manipur

Hareshwar Goshwami *

Mass Rally for the common future of Manipur from THAU Ground to Khuman Lampak :: 06th February 2016
Mass Rally for the common future of Manipur from THAU Ground to Khuman Lampak in February 2016 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

"In this world hatred can never be appeased by hatred. Hatred can only be appeased by love. This is the eternal law." (A Saying from Buddhism)

Manipur is a home of several divergent groups of people following almost all the major religions of the world. Mention may be made of the composition of the people of Manipur (religion wise) as per Census Report of 2011 is; Hindus (41.39%), Christians (41.29%), Musalmans (08.40%) (Also known as Meitei-Pangals), others including Meitei/Meetei who still pursue the traditional Meitei/Meetei religion (8.19%),.

Besides, numerically small number of Buddhist (0.25%) also co-exist with these larger sections. From this point of view Manipur can be described as a multi-religious and multi-cultural society. Religiously speaking, the major communities in Manipur are the Meiteis most who adopted Hinduism and the hill tribes who mostly pursue Christianity.

Meitei Hindus worship Hindu Gods and Goddesses besides Lainingthou Sanamahi the supreme God of the Manipuri Meiteis and also believe in other sylvan deities of the traditional Meitei religion. In fact, Hinduism in Manipur was transformed to suit the soil of the land by ruling Manipuri kings from time to time, since its introduction in Manipur in the early part of the eighteen century. One of the chief architects of the present structure of Meitei-Hinduism is Raja Rishi Bheigyachandra (1759-1761 AD), (1763-1798 AD) who had synchronized the two great oriental and occidental cultures.

As for now, Manipur rarely witnessed any major communal flare ups based on religion. But still there seems to be inter-religious and inter-ethnic tensions looming around in the horizon. However, most of these apprehensions have arisen out of socio-economic and political issues which have not been properly addressed. No doubt, there seems to be some resentment among communities following diverse religions. The focal point of these resentments among divergent ethnic and sub-ethnic groups may be described as lack of tolerance, lack of understanding and the emergence of pseudo religious leaders and politicians.

The major religious community in Manipur is the Meitei-Hindus, who worship Hindu Gods and Goddesses besides Lainingthou Sanamahi, the Supreme Deity of the Manipuri Meiteis. In fact, since its introduction in the early part of the eighteen century, Hinduism in Manipur has been transformed to suit the soil of the land by ruling Manipuri kings from time to time. The main architect of the present structure of Meitei-Hinduism is Raja Rishi Bheigyachandra (1759- 1761 AD), (1763-1798 AD) who had synchronized the two great oriental and occidental culture.

In fact, these days the moral content of all religions and its peace-promoting spiritual values are apparently clouded by more attractive materialistic values. Many followers of different religions have ignored or insulted the principles of their religious teachers in order to seek power, fame and other material gains for their personal benefits. That tends to pollute the minds of modern religionists and cause unhealthy competitions and barriers amongst different religious groups as well as within the same religious community.

To create a healthy atmosphere towards a culture of inter-religious and inter-ethnic peace and harmony in Manipur, I would like to place some suggestions mainly inspired and referred from the writings of Dr.K. Sri Dhamananda, a Buddhist monk and scholar of great repute.

Tolerance and Respect: Tolerance and respect are two vital words that should be borne in mind in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. One should not only preach tolerance but try, on every possible occasion, to put into practice the benevolent spirit of tolerance as this spirit would go a long way in creating an atmosphere leading to peace and harmony.

We may not understand or appreciate the inherent values of certain religious rituals or practice carried out by certain co-religionists. Similarly, others may not be in a position to understand or appreciate our own rituals or practices. If we do not want others to mock our actions, we should not ridicule others too. We should try to understand the practices which are foreign to us as it will help to create a better understanding, thus enhancing the spirit of tolerance amongst the followers of the multi-religious denominations.

To Be Considerate: Even as knowing the fact that in this country we are privileged to carry out our respective religious rites and practices without any hindrance, we must realize that we are living in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. Try to be considerate at all times in whatever we do. We must not forget the feelings of our neighbors who happen to be followers of different religions and who may not appreciate certain ritualistic performances which are foreign to them.

Whatever religious or cultural practices performed by us must be done within reasonable limits and within the confines of our homes without causing undue disturbances to the peace and serenity of our neighborhood. If we rigidly insist that we have the right to perform our rites and rituals, however noisy, awkward or irritating to others, without caring for the feelings of our neighbors, we would definitely be courting trouble or difficulties particularly in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic neighborhood.

Religious Education: To co-exist in peace and harmony in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society, we should have a sound religious education with strong emphasis on moral and ethical values as the first positive step towards better understanding and mutual co-operation amongst all religionists.

All religionists should unite and co-operate with one another to promote and endorse a proper and systematic religious education, not only of a particular religion, but on the essentials of all religious teachings that would enlighten as well as give an insight into the nature of higher spiritual values of life, particularly its moral and ethical values.

Inter-Religious Organizations : To help and create a better inter-religious understanding and mutual regard for one another would be the setting up of inter-religious organizations catering for the holding of regular lectures, talks, discussions, seminars (like today's) and forums on religions and allied subjects. In doing so, the focus of motivation should always be on the search for common goals leading to peace and harmony rather than the adoption of an attitude of supremacy or domination of one faith over another.

Common Welfare Activities: The holding of fellowship meetings, the institution of community service programmes and other social and welfare activities where all religionists work hand-in-hand for a common humanitarian cause, to uplift the lot of the more unfortunate ones in society would serve as a means for a common bond of friendship leading to inter-religious peace and harmony.

Youth Clubs: Another important area where religionists should seriously address themselves is in the field of youth organizations and related activities. The youths of today are the adults of tomorrow. They should not be allowed to stray into pitfalls of the present age. All the youthful energies and resources should be properly harnessed and directed towards constructive purposes. They should be apprised of all the fundamental teachings of religion in promoting a peaceful and harmonious society and not fed with venom decrying one faith against another.

Lastly, in a State like ours where religious fanaticism is almost unknown and ethnic intolerance is at the very stage of its inception, the role of politicians as well as that of the people at Governance is also very significant. Most of us are aware that all means are free and fair for some of the politicians.

However, religious platforms should not be opened for those politicians who might ruin the religious peace and tranquility through their political attachment. As such, political activities should not be guided by the principle of a particular religion as it might hurt the feeling and sentiment of other co-religionist. Otherwise, peace and tranquility in the State could be a distant dream.

* Hareshwar Goshwami wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on April 01, 2017.

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